2021 CHRO Leadership — Three Key Themes

Community Blog
Written by Jason Larson

JANUARY 29, 2021

Recruiting. Onboarding. Organization design. Change management. Workforce planning. Employee experience. Employee data. Upskilling. Reskilling. Inclusion. Equity. Belonging. The office. I’ll say it again, The Office. 

You name it, the pandemic has transformed it and the future of the HR function. More specifically -- and importantly -- the CEO and board view the CHRO’s role in business strategy in a completely different light, and that view is here to stay. In fact, according to Gartner’s 2020 Board of Directors Survey, the “workforce” ranked as the second most important priority heading into 2021, just behind “digital tech initiatives,” which naturally includes the workforce, anyway.  

To close out the year, Evanta held virtual summits with CHRO communities across the globe, and the above data speaks to the focus of many of the keynotes and roundtable discussions led by F1000 HR leaders. The shift in business expectations and scope of role is here to stay, CHROs said in so many words, many times over. Indeed, it’s a new dawn of putting people at the center of the business, and HR leaders must deliver in ways they never have before. 

With this in mind, here are three key themes altering the human resources landscape today and informing leadership priorities in 2021 and beyond.  

Theme 1: Planning for and shaping the future of work 

In a recent Gartner survey of HR leaders, 62% said they do not have an explicit future of work strategy. This illustrates the dominant theme in Evanta’s virtual summit feedback from November/December as well: CHROs want to better understand how to plan for and influence the future of work as opposed to merely reacting to changes in the industry or workforce. Proper human resources planning and strategy around the future of work ties to a plethora of critical business priorities: business transformation, cost optimization, and risk management, to name a few. In addition, many HR leaders struggle to adapt their talent strategies to align with changes in their market, and this challenge stems from an absent or thin future of work strategy. 

So where to begin? The Gartner HR research team suggests identifying future-of-work trends relevant to the business. These trends include more employees working remotely, increased use of data, organizations prioritizing resilience over efficiency, and wider use of contingent workers. Here, we can see a sample methodology from a global manufacturer, an exercise that is critical to their future of work strategy and scenario planning.


Screens to Test for the Growth Potential of Megatrends


Theme 2: Becoming the board’s leader of human capital 

With the pandemic and social unrest, CHROs have been a driving force in business strategy, and the value that HR can bring to organizational disruption is here to stay. Long have we had the discussion about HR getting a “seat at the table,” and finally that point is forever moot. In a recent survey of active board members, Gartner found that CHROs educate the board on complex issues more effectively than most of their peers, including CFOs. Simply put, CHROs have made great strides in their exposure to and influence of the board. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that they’re not aligned on how important it is to be the board’s leader of human capital. When comparing a CHRO self-diagnostic survey and board survey, Gartner found that the greatest misalignment between the CHRO and board is where they place the importance of human capital. The board puts a higher premium on this topic, and so not surprisingly, CHROs are less effective than the majority of their peers at influencing board decisions. Time spent on human capital and how it is presented to the board is an area of growth for CHROs in 2021.  

Theme 3: Transforming HR structure and strategy

Working remotely has been a paradigm shift for many organizations, and there’s clear evidence that hybrid workforces will be commonplace post-pandemic. Moving beyond basic operational questions related to remote work and asking deeper questions around leadership roles and HR virtual strategies will be a must for many CHROs this year. Further, remote work has complicated the employee experience, as organizations grapple with defining EVPs for different working locations. The employee life cycle has altered significantly and many HR leaders are in the throes of redesigning work so their companies can quickly change direction. 

And this last theme encapsulates just how profoundly the pandemic impacted every facet of HR. CHROs are in the perfect position to make lasting change in their organizations and society as a whole.  


Jason Larson headshot

Jason Larson

Director, Content at Evanta, a Gartner Company

by CHROs, for CHROs

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